Monday, November 16, 2009

Jewish Book Month's Hot Authors


SHOW NOTES:

A chat with Lisa Silverman of the Jewish Book Council about the authors going on tour this fall for Jewish Book Month, and the process by which they are selected.

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6 comments:

Lisa said...

Thanks, Heidi--That was a fun evening. Back in July it was hard to imagine the "hot" authors for this season's fairs, but others who have already stood out at fairs that have recently finished have included: Chris Bohjalian, Noah Alper, Martin Fletcher, Daniel Levin, and Ellen Frankel, among so many others. I visited the San Diego Jewish Book Fair and the one at American Jewish University in LA this last week, and heard 8 different speakers--all very worthwhile!
Lisa

Steven Bernstein said...

While listening to this week's episode (which--as always--was superb) I found it quite troubling to learn that the Jewish Book Council is willing to provide authors of generic books who "just happen to be Jewish" as speakers at Jewish book festivals. I am reminded of some of the comments from last year's episode Funny, That Book Doesn't Look Jewish regarding what does and does not constitute a Jewish book.

"I don't think it is a Jewish book in any sense of the word, and I'll tell you why: It represents a growing trend in books from secular publishers especially those for teens in that it merely mentions or suggests that a character is Jewish and nothing more. For instance, in a book that I think was an AJL notable book last year "Notes from a Midnight Driver" the only hint that one of the characters is Jewish is that he spouts Yiddish and the possiblity that he's Yiddish is irrelevant to the book's plot or meaning. Any ethnic group with a distinctive speech pattern would do. There are no expressly Jewish values in the book. ... If you could replace the charachters--those characters could be Italian or they could be Irish and that's my test. Could the character be another ethnic group with no change to the book."
--Linda Silver, author/editor of The Jewish Values Finder

"The characters or the content needs to be identifiably Jewish not just that the author Jewish. I mean if Philip Roth writes a murder mystery that has nothing to do with Judaism I don't think that qualifies as a Jewish book just because he's a well known Jewish author and I think it's entirely possible for a non-Jewish author to write a Jewish book if there are Jewish characters in there that are identifiably so and--you know--not just the neighbor down the street who accidentally walks into a scene."
--Maggie Anton, author of the series Rashi's Daughters

The whole purpose of these Jewish book festivals is to promote the reading of books that are uniquely Jewish. If we cast too wide a net in our definition of a Jewish book we risk making the "Jewish" in "Jewish Book" meaningless.

ADK said...

Hi, Heidi.

This broadcast was very useful to me. Just last week I was a guest of the Houston book Festival, and it was such a wonderful experience. I hope I have a chance to visit more JCCs in the future, and listening to your interview helped clue me into the process.

Thank you!

Ann Koffsky

Lisa said...

Just to clarify the situation regarding the "Jewishness" of the books being promoted at a Jewish book fair, I would like to let everyone know that each city has its own rules regarding that. Many of them only allow books with specifically Jewish themes. Others are very large and bring in huge numbers of people at their JCC's (many of the members utilizing the sports centers are not Jewish) and they mix it up a bit. These venues believe that by offering an author who may be Jewish and well-known, but the book isn't about a Jewish subject, they are also enticing all sorts of people to come and shop at the tables full of Jewish-themed books and enjoy the festive atmosphere, etc.

Heidi Estrin said...

The "Jewish enough?" question is an eternal struggle, about books and of course sometimes about people! I think that the rules need to be flexible depending on your goals. Sometimes the most important thing is conveying Jewish knowledge, other times it's evincing Jewish pride (which can be pride in successful authorship no matter the topic of the book), sometimes (like at a book fair) entertainment may be the primary goal. And, as that earlier Book of Life episode showed, each person's definition of how much is the right amount of Jewishness is going to vary.

Steven Bernstein said...

It seems to me that "enticing all sorts of people to come and shop at the tables full of Jewish-themed books" is motivated entirely by profit-margins not by mission statements. My observation is based on my having done a survey of the books offered for sale at the Jewish Book Festival in my community and finding that only about 15-25% of the books sold are even remotely Jewish-themed (and that's using the most liberal of criteria from the Funny, That Book Doesn't Look Jewish episode). That's a lot more than "mixing it up a bit". Does the Jewish Book Council exist to help JCCs make more money or to help them give people a connection to Judaism (religious, historical, cultural or otherwise) through Jewish books? And don't let the JCCs tell you what they want out of their Jewish Book Festivals, because I can tell you: it's green and has pictures of dead presidents on it.